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Yes, Bruce, there is a third time through the order penalty

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Bruce Bochy didn’t lose last night’s game, but his strategy didn’t help.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

As Franmil Reyes’ 9,000-foot home run off of Reyes Moronta flew over the left field side of Oracle Park and into Solano County, it seemed pretty clear that as big a mistake as Moronta’s pitch was, the fact that Moronta had come into the game to bail out Madison Bumgarner was the bigger miscue.

Maybe you already know this, but the explosion of bullpenning, bullpenry, and bullpensahappening over the past few years is largely the result of clear, obvious, and eye-opening numbers that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that starting pitchers are less effective their third time through a batting order.

It doesn’t matter if the pitcher is Justin Verlander or Madison Bumgarner, the third time through comes for them all the same. It’s irrefutable. Managing in defiance of that certainty blows past hubris and calls a lot into question. Is Bruce Bochy seeing the same game that we are or is he being stubborn about what the data says or is he doomed to the fate of most men and just stuck in the past? Complicating matters is that Madison Bumgarner is no longer the same pitcher he was. Pounding the strike zone with 85 mph cutters and hoping batters bite on his curveball can work for a few innings, but the returns diminish quickly.

Here’s how batters in starting lineups have done against Bumgarner in his career (1,657.1 IP in the regular season):

1st PA: .220 / .274 / .346 (.620 OPS)
2nd PA: .233 / .277 / .366 (.643 OPS)
3rd PA: .256 / .303 / .408 (.711 OPS)

Now let’s just look at last season’s splits (129.2 IP):

1st PA: .193 / .237 / .330 (.556 OPS)
2nd PA: .238 / .314 / .369 (.683 OPS)
3rd PA: .294 / .368 / .500 (.868 OPS)

The sixth inning was Madison Bumgarner’s third time through the Padres’ batting order. It went about as well as the numbers predicted. Wil Myers led off with a home run, and there were two more hard hit outs. That followed a fifth inning that featured a walk, a homer run, and another hard hit.

This isn’t about a manager trusting his gut with his ace on the mound — even if we should collectively discount the notion that Madison Bumgarner is still an ace — it’s about calling into question the entire process. What good is a 13-arm pitching staff if it’s not going to be used liberally? Why did Madison Bumgarner start the 7th inning after the lead had narrowed to 5-3?

Let’s do a pros and cons list from Bruce Bochy’s perspective:

Pros

  • He’s Madison Bumgarner
  • He’d only thrown 82 pitches through 6 innings
  • The bottom of the order was due up
  • The offense looked good — they could perhaps add late, if necessary
  • He’ll be on a short leash

Cons

  • He’s 2019 Madison Bumgarner and it’s not October
  • He’d thrown 29 pitches in the fifth inning and it’s only April
  • The offense was downgraded once Tyler Austin was removed for Gerardo Parra’s defense
  • The bullpen was well-rested, negating any need for leashes
  • It was Bumgarner’s third time through the order

It figures to be a long season, but Bruce Bochy’s going to find that his final year as manager will be harder than usual so long as he sticks to some of his old ways. Maybe his gut just needs an update, but it’s not 2014. That’s not the same Bumgarner out there, those aren’t the same Padres he’s grown accustomed to, and everything else around him has changed in the direction of data driving decisions.

There is value in experience and Bruce Bochy can certainly do whatever he wants with the roster given to him, and he’s certainly sharp enough to look at a slugging percentage and get that players hit the ball harder the more often they see a pitcher. The cost-benefit analysis of keeping the ace in the game should include all that information along with balancing not wanting to piss off said ace and assuming your team could score more runs, if necessary.

Yeah, the Giants probably should’ve added some more runs after the fourth inning and Bruce Bochy’s gut isn’t going to be the roster’s undoing, but for a team with no margin for error, every decision matters, and the process behind each decision matters most of all.

We’ve reached the end of the long view on this Giants team. 2014 was five years ago. The collapse of 2016 is two and a half years ago — in baseball time, these are generations. The front office has the task of planning what’s next, and as much as ornery fans want the team to trade all the players and start the rebuild, nothing so dramatic has to happen in order for the team to turn the page. It can start with a thought.